After a disappointing 2017 season where he was passed over by Corey Clement on the depth chart, this summer was critical for Eagles running back Wendell Smallwood.
The former fifth-round pick was competing for a roster spot with Donnel Pumphrey, undrafted free agent Josh Adams, and veteran Matt Jones. Many people did not give Smallwood a chance to make the team and thought that Adams or Jones could snatch the final running back spot.
However, Smallwood strung together a couple of good performances in the preseason and was able to break away from the pack to win the fourth running back job.
Fast forward to Week 3 of the 2018 NFL season and Smallwood is playing an instrumental role within the offense and scored the game-winning touchdown for the defending Super Bowl champs on Sunday.
It was truly a great moment for the former West Virginia Mountaineer product, who struggled last season, but against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts proved that he deserves more opportunities.
Against the Colts, Smallwood led the Eagles in rushing with 56 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown. He also was effective as a receiver, catching a 34-yard pass from quarterback Carson Wentz on a beautiful play design late in the second quarter that allowed him to get free.
Head coach Doug Pederson was asked about Smallwood’s performance after the game and elaborated on his work ethic.
“Wendell has always impressed me. He’s worked extremely hard,” he said.
“He’s really improved his craft and put himself in a position to help us. He did it again in training camp again this year and the first part of the season. Got to have guys like that. Might be role players, but you know what, their role is pretty big in games like this when your two top guys are down in the backfield.”
Smallwood along with Clement and Adams were leaned on heavily by the Eagles coaching staff due to rainy conditions on the field. After a lackluster performance against Tampa, the young trio of backs made sure that they did not leave any free yards on the field.
Smallwood spoke about being the aggressors and fighting for extra yards, which gave the team an extra boost.
“I think just fighting, especially on short yardage. Second-and-longs, first-and-longs, you get 8 [or] you get 9 [yards], it makes your second-and-short, third-and-short easier. I think just fighting for extra yards and getting that line pumped. The line loves when the running backs run hard. They kind of feed off of that.”
The offensive line was definitely pumped up and it showed as Smallwood ripped off runs of 11 and six yards on the Eagles’ first offensive drive. Matter of fact, the 5-foot-10 running back matched his rushing yard total from last week’s game against Tampa Bay, in the first quarter of Sunday’s contest.
If you remembered against the Buccaneers, Smallwood could not get anything going on the ground, rushing for 28 yards on seven carries. However, that was a completely different story against Indianapolis as he had 28 rushing yards on four carries.
From that point on, you knew Smallwood was possibly on track to have a good game, which ended with him scoring the easiest touchdown of his career.
“I felt like that was almost one of the easiest touchdowns I’ve had,” he said. “[Jason] Kelce and [Stefen] Wisniewski worked up the double team and I knew it was coming. We practiced that play all week, so I just hung in there. I think they had two safeties, and [Kelce and Wisniewski] blew those guys off the ball and I ran it in behind them.”
It was a very simple play that capped off a good game for Smallwood, who has changed his career trajectory with the Eagles. In regards to next week’s game against the Tennessee Titans, it remains to be seen if Ajayi or Sproles plays.
Nevertheless, if they are not ready to go for some unforeseen reason, the Eagles have a young running back in Smallwood who they count on to shoulder some of the carries.